Taking Risks for Our Students

Taking Risks for Our Students

The excitement of a new school year generally greets me in a place of confident anticipation. Like the edge pieces of a newly begun jigsaw puzzle, cherished September routines provide a familiar boundary as I await the colorful scene that will take shape within. My knowledge and experience provide comfort and welcoming new students and families adds just the right amount of “new” to this annual beginning.Taking Risks for Our Students

This year, as the nights grow cooler in upstate New York, the approaching school year bears little resemblance to any that came before. I’m still searching for those edge pieces, my dog just chewed through the lid with the picture on it, and I’m uncertain how to put this beautiful puzzle together.  Simply put—I’m uncomfortable!

New learning requires discomfort. As educators, we endlessly pursue “just right” levels of challenge and support to guide our students through the discomfort of learning something new. This fall, more than any before, we will experience this truth—this time as learners.

So, what are the strategies we use to help our students find their way through new challenges? And how might we make use of them as we approach this uncomfortable new beginning?

  • Look for the familiar. What DO I know about this? Complex situations often contain multiple unfamiliar pieces. Reminding ourselves to look for the familiar aspects in a new situation can lower our stress levels and preserve more of our mental energy for creating actionable steps. For example, we know building a positive community is critical to student success. Whether in person or virtually, we can begin by getting to know our students, helping students get to know one another, and welcoming families as important partners. Giving everyone time to learn about one another, technology, routines, and expectations creates a safe environment of trust in which learning can take place.
  • Take risks and make mistakes. I can’t do this . . . yet! Learning requires a great deal of social risk-taking. Knowing this, we enthusiastically encourage a growth mindset in our classrooms. We welcome, even celebrate, student mistakes and approximations as important steps in the learning process. Plot twist: As we stretch ourselves to meet student needs in response to COVID-19, many more of the mistakes will be ours. Knowing that our mistakes may be seen in students’ homes makes many of us queasy. It may help us to consider that students and parents will also witness how we respond in those moments. Modeling calm, accepting our mistakes as part of growth, and finding another path forward is a powerful demonstration of resilience for everyone watching.
  • It’s okay to ask for help. Who can offer me a next step? Teaching students to assert themselves in respectful ways is a social-emotional competency that sets students up for success, both in and out of school. Knowing when and how to ask for help is an important step in perseverance—not a failure of the same. This is true for every member of our school communities. In order to move forward for ourselves and our students, we need to live in a place of permission and grace in which we allow ourselves to admit what we do not know. Let’s continue to reach out to one another for suggestions and support. We are stronger together.
  • “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama XIV. We are all in this together. We all respond to stress in different ways. We use a wide range of strategies for coping and self-care to move through stressful experiences and protect ourselves. Taking time to consider a self-care plan and designate time away from work is essential. Along the way, let’s be sure we take care of those around us. Maintaining empathy for our administrators, colleagues, students, and families will lead us to respond with understanding and kindness. It is always possible.

Our knowledge and experience will continue to bring us comfort. We are educators—we know things! By empowering ourselves with the very same strategies we encourage our students to practice, we are destined to grow in surprising ways. Now slide that puzzle over here.


Written by Amy Isenhart, 4th Grade Teacher and Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher
Tags: Empathy, Professional Development, self-care